Blue Mountains and Religious Pilgrims

Trip Start Aug 09, 2007
Trip End Jul 29, 2008

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Flag of Australia  , New South Wales,
Thursday, July 17, 2008

On our first time through Sydney, the weather was bleak and cold – we made the most of it with Ryan (amazing tourguide!) and had a blast with him but felt we missed out on a lot of what Sydney may have to offer in the sun. Not so this time – it was amazingly beautiful weather and, better yet, it was Pope Time!! The Papa himself was in town for Worth Youth Day (held over a…week?) hosted in Sydney during our visit.  There were thousands upon thousands of pilgrams through the city and Pope sightings became a bit of a challenge due to his fast-moving, heavily protected Pope-mobile and a sort of game with locals calling into radio stations claiming sightings and newspapers printing terribly blurry pictures of what may be the Pope's foot whizzing out of a picture.  It was pretty fun! 

Our first plan after arriving in Sydney was to leave it!  We wanted to see the Blue Mountains, so called because of the eucalyptus oil that comes off the forested mountains emitting a blue haze over the area.  We rented a car and drove up to Katoomba (about 65km NW of Sydney) to take in some of the beauty and bushwalks that the area had to offer.  Our first stop was to take the Skyway (a glass-bottomed gondola) across the Katoomba Falls gorge, 200m above the valley floor.  This was pretty cool and conveniently planted us on the other side of the valley where we began a walk that would take us towards the Three Sisters rock formation, down into the Jamison Valley and then we could travel back up to the main level via an ancient cable car set at a 45 degree angle that coal-miners once used to access to the valley.  The Three Sisters rock formation is quite beautiful set in front of the blue mist of the valley.  There is a legend that says they represent three beautiful sisters of one tribe who wanted to marry three brothers of another tribe but this was forbidden and such an unloyal request led to war.  To protect them from the battle, a witch doctor changed them to stone and, since he was killed in the war, they were never changed back.  However, it is also fabled that this story was created in the '30s to give some lore to the tourist attraction.  I recommend a grain of salt with this eucalypt-infused story. 

The trail itself that lead down into the valley bottom was quite beautiful and interesting.  We took over 800 winding stairs down into the valley bottom where we then twisted among creeks, waterfalls and beautiful forest until reaching an old and very steep cable car which was a great ride back up. We later on explored various other regions of the blue mountain cliff near Echo Point and beyond which was all equally beautiful.  In search of more though, we ventured out the next day into Blue Mountain National Park to hike the Grand Canyon trail which was interesting and beautiful as it snaked into valleys, below overhangs, across streams and out to a lookout across the valley.  We were really glad to have taken the extra time to explore this region in what we felt was a much more private and special type of experience. 

We headed back to Sydney that night, ready to continue exploring this beautiful area!  We started our day with a very cool hike around the North Head, near to where Ryan lives.  This brought us across stunning Manly Beach to the Quay, around Manley Harbour, into Sydney Harbour National Park and finally out to Spit Road Bridge that leads into the City.  On our way, we met a fellow traveler from Spain and enjoyed sharing that long walk with him. 

The next day we headed back into Sydney to explore.  We got no further than Manly beach before we were engulfed by a sea of pilgrims.  Intent not to look like outsiders, Nik promptly found an ‘I heart Jesus’ shirt and proudly displayed this to all passing pilgrims to ensure they knew we were in on this party too.  We had a great day – we went back to the Opera House and had a tour of the inside which was pretty fascinating.  They spoke of how the current design by Jørn Utzon was initially cut from the submitted designs, but was later reconsidered and finally selected in 1957.  The building was not completed until 1973 though with some major structural difficulties along the way.  We were toured through the main opera theatre as well as the six other theatres and rooms for concerts, plays and outdoor performances.  This was basically the cheapest ticket to get into the famed Opera House so we took it and had the benefit of an interesting and informative tour.

We hopped a bus and headed to famous Bondi Beach after.  This beach is beautiful – a long and lovely white crescent of beach to enjoy! South of the beach is a cool rocky cliff with a walking route along it that we set off on to explore.  It was scenic and a bit rugged despite being well travelled.  One thing we noticed on this trail as well as many others in Sydney is that each trail has a small ‘adult gym’ built into it, usually with a pull up bar, a tricep dip, a place for sit-ups, calf raises and anything else you might care to do.  We felt this contributed to the disproportionate amount of 6-packs we saw everywhere!! It was quite amazing!  We continued along this pathway enjoying the long, slow sunset until we arrived to Coogee for a pint before meeting some friends we had met in South America.  We had met up with them on our first time in Sydney as well to give them a beautiful bowl we had got them in Otavalo, Ecuador (they loved bowls!) and were happy to be able to see them again at their home this time.  We had a really great visit with them again that night!

Ryan arrived back that night and we couldn’t wait to share our last days in Sydney with him.  We went out the next day along with his great friends on a whale watching tour from Sydney Harbour and we were fortunate enough to see some humpbacks traveling alongside our boat.  This was our first time seeing whales and, despite any huge theatrics by the whales, it was a pretty special and memorable experience that we were happy to share that with Ryan.  We returned to his friend’s apartment around Manley with some beers to share and enjoyed our last hours together in Australia.  

We were sad to leave our friends and, ultimately, our retirement but we had a few good parties left before we had to face that reality plus countless memories to get us through those difficult days we would surely face as we left retirement.  
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